If everyone can be a tank/healer/dps, do you still have a holy trinity?
Games with skill systems, rather than class systems, don’t have the holy trinity problem. You don’t stop a fleet action in EVE because your tank is afk, and you don’t call off a siege in Darkfall because your main healer is offline. In UO you never went looking for more DPS to fill out a dungeon group.
That is an advantage to a skill based system, yet players do enjoy playing a set role. There is something familiar and enjoyable about playing a tank if that’s what you like, and you simply can’t do that in most skill-based systems. I can play a bit more ‘tanky’ in Darkfall, but it’s not nearly the same thing.
Rift’s soul system presents the best of both worlds. I still get a character that plays and feels genuinely tanky, yet if a group already has a tank I’m not excluded. If all three of our top healers are online, rather than running a sub-optimal group, one or more of them can quickly switch over and we are good to go with one tank, one healer, three dps (if that’s what’s needed).
The advantages go much deeper than that however.
If you design a raid encounter to require 15 DPS and 5 healers (or even 20 straight DPS. Say a boss that deals no damage until a certain time, at which point he insta-gibs everyone), in a traditional class-based game that encounter will be flagged as a guild-breaker. Your tanks (usually the key players) sit on the sideline, your guild composition gets all out of whack, and the fight itself is tagged more as a gimmick than an interesting challenge. In Rift that encounter can easily exist (and hopefully will if it does not already), because every tank can also be a DPS, and DPS can switch to a healer role.
On a smaller but equally important scale, the soul system makes putting together a 5-man PUG much easier, as almost anyone can play any role (warriors can’t heal, mages can’t tank, otherwise everyone can do everything). If you are a priest (normally healer) and see a group needing one more DPS, it’s up to you if you want to switch over to a DPS soul spec and join in. In a traditional themepark, no matter how badly that priest wanted to run that instance, he simply could not fill in the DPS role. There is also something to be said about players adapting to the needs of the group, and what kind of community something like that tends to foster. Rift is free of the ‘huntard’ stuff that plagues other games, simply because if that kind of spec is an issue, it can quickly and easily be switched out.
Another major issue in older class-based systems is what to do with hybrids. If you make a hybrid just as good at all roles as those classes who can only do one, you gimp the focused-role class. If you make the hybrid slightly weaker, the optimal setup is to leave all the hybrids at home. If the hybrid is stronger in one of their roles, they are forced into just that one role, ruining the whole point of the hybrid in the first place. Not only that, but each balance change might ‘force’ a role change for the hybrid, so someone who enjoyed healing and was doing just fine might now find themselves forced to either dps/tank or sit on the sideline. MMO history is packed with guild drama stemming from such issues.
In Rift, since everyone is a hybrid, you don’t need to worry about the specialized class. If a warrior’s DPS is just as good as a rogues/mages, that’s fine. If a rogue can tank at a warriors level, again, no issue. A priest won’t get bumped from a raid in Rift because a mage can healer. Of course individual souls still require balance, but the tough act of ensuring hybrids do something without doing everything is off the table, and this not only makes for an inherently more balanced game, but one that can allow different souls to perform certain specific tasks better, so long as other classes either have something similar or complimentary.
It’s because of these meta-reasons that I believe Rift’s soul system is the game-changing feature, even more so than the rift system. Rifts add a great deal in terms of content and zone activity, but the soul system not only solves some very core MMO issues, it makes playing the game itself far more enjoyable. Instead of constantly rerolling alts and re-grinding to experience all facets of the game, Rift allows me to switch things up on the fly, and while a warrior does play differently than a priest, I’m not excluded from experiencing group play as a tank, melee dps, ranged dps, or support just because I picked a character who wears plate armor.
Hell, if I want to stop tanking halfway through an instance and just DPS, I can do that, and our group won’t need to reform or put out the call for another tank. The content-design possibilities are mind-blowing when you consider that, and Trion can (should) get very, very creative going forward.
One can hope that, with the trinity solved, perhaps we can progress beyond “don’t stand in the fire” and Dance Dance Revolution raid design. I’m looking forward to it, and hopefully Trion is as well.